He opened up a small pamphlet which looked like it contained blueprints. Glancing at them, I could find out that they were for.. his own house! I stifled a laugh and looked at him. "You need a guide to your own house?", I asked. This is getting more and more fucked up as it goes.
We followed him into an elevator, Sarah staying close to Howard- as a bodyguard would, I realized. My sixth sense... my Illuminated sense, I guess I could call it now.. told me she's much more than she appears to be- 'doing the assassinations' is probably only the tip of what she's capable of. Under normal circumstances, I would have been surprised at the existence of an elevator in a house. The way things were going, I sort of expected it. Anything could be down there, literally anything- anything from secret plans for the building of humanistic robots to antimatter weapons to teleportation devices to.... holy fucking crap... mind control implants, mass produced. The thought did not exactly get my digestive juices flowing, and I tasted birthday cake and the telltale nauseatic taste of stomach acid. Howard pressed the button marked "5" and I wasn't surprised when the elevator went down instead of up. Everything else has been screwy today anyway.
The elevator dropped somewhat sharply, and kept dropping... we went down for what I'd guess as a 40-story building's distance. The only reason anyone would have anything down this far is for protection from something. Nuclear attack? Radio-static interference? Or did they just put whatever it is here so no one would break into it? (*ding* Fifth floor! Children's wear, ladies' lingerie, and Illuminated secrets!)
The elevator doors opened, and I saw one of the last things I would have expected, although I've been learning to expect the unexpected today.
It looked like a mall. An ordinary, terrestrial, usual mall, the place where you could buy some ice cream or some shoes or maybe skate around on the indoor ice-rink, although I doubt you could do any of that here. The railing right in front of us wasn't plated in gold, and there were no sparkling richass-brand chandeliers hanging from the ceiling- again, a no-frills metallic architecture. It looked perfectly normal- except, of course, for the fact that it was way, way, way underground. And no one else was in it. And the floors were thickly carpeted. And it was completely neat and clean. And it was on an island in the middle of nowhere. And the fact that what's down here was obviously not something you'd get at JCPenney's, unless they were having their annual Secret Shit sale. I barely realized I was flat-out gawking. It was quite large- not too big to waste space, but big enough to hold everything- there were only five rooms to it, but I got the impression that there could have been more. It wasn't designed to impress, but it did so anyway.
Right next to the elevator was a video arcade. Gee, a nice place to put secret shit of all sorts, and they put a fucking arcade down here. I briefly wondered who the hell would play video games at a time like this, then I remembered- it's a happy time for the controller of the world. It's his tenth birthday, and he got a new.. friend for his birthday. The thought burned an impression on my brain. (Sure as hell makes things convenient... oh damn.)
We kept following him past several machines of popular games I recognized, until he came up to.. ah. Mortal Kombat, the first one of the series. At least he has good taste. Almost no cheesy unblockable shit, few cheese combos, and lots of blood and gore. Old, sorta, but who cares? I rule this game. No one, I mean not even those 20 year old game-addicted college kids, can touch me on this. I instinctively reached into my pocket (which I didn't have) for a quarter, and looked at the place where I would put it... Then I realized it. There's no coin slots on the machines. I could understand it if the machines were coin-disabled and the screens were flashing 'Free Play', but no slots at all?! And the games don't even say anything about coins on their screens (the 'Insert Coin' or 'Press Start' I'm used to was totally absent)? What the fuck? Anyone mind telling me where you get these things? I know enough about manufacturing and arcade machines to say that this would be a special order of a pretty high order. (Higher than you think, Billy, my dark side said- but then again, my dark side is probably the only thing I can really understand this with) Of course, my selfish host definitely has the resources to make (not to mention GIVE... ow, my stomach) high orders.
"Billy," he said in my cockiest voice, "play your hardest. Win.". I looked at him as if he was insane. Maybe he is, maybe that's a requirement to control the world, sane people can't handle it. If these guys are the ones who watch people, keep tabs on them, and destroy all threats to their diabolical schemes, then they'd know how good I am at this. And anyone dumb enough to ask me to... no, fucking command me to win, might as well just not play at all. Okay, asshole. You bring me here, you make me your fucking slave, and now you want me to beat your sad ass? Fine then. Into the pit with you, Inheritor.
On the other hand, this joker does look like me and talk like me, so maybe he'll actually have some skill and pose a threat. Then again, maybe not.
He bashed the 1 and 2 player start buttons. I immediately went to Sub-Zero, my best character. I comparatively suck at Sonja, so I usually play as her against most people, but this guy wants me to win. He chose the Annoying Ice Guy too.
He played exactly like the annoying bitches I'm used to. Hard-to-stop combos all around, and lots of special moves. Sigh. One, two, and BOOM, I struck at every available opportunity, red pixels came from his guy en masse, and his life points went steadily to naught. Splat. The other shade of blue on the screen was laying down, knocked out, and my guy raised his fist.
Crap... what happens if ye Inheritor gets pissed at this? Something in my mind which I couldn't identify was starting to disintegrate, but I knew for certain it wasn't the implants or even my consciousness. Could be my sanity...
The second round was just a joke. He got angry and frustrated, showing his surprise at playing someone who could match him. I put him away, with lots of happy ice and uppercuts, and just because I thought he needed it, I put in the Fatality code and my Annoying Ice Guy ripped the spine out of his. Little kibbles of blood dripped out of the hanging head. "Flawless Victory", Shang Tsung said in his demon's voice.
That was one of the toughest battles I've had, and this guy probably never played any humans before. "Orwellian cunt.", he muttered with a half-smile, half-sneer, and gave the machine a solid, hard kick that didn't disturb it at all. What the hell? He's using Orwellian as a swear word..
He gritted his teeth, sighed, and said, "Keep following me around." I couldn't even start to resist, and that was getting more than annoying. The same sense of destabilization flowed into me as before, along with more nausea.
We left the darkened arcade of pixelated death and went to the other side of the elevator. It was a room of... more death. Only this time, not pixelated. It was unbelievable. The room had to be about half a football field in area, 50 feet high, with racks covering it. The steel barrels of guns, guns, and more guns all glistened in the non-fluorescent, strange lighting that I realized was all over this basement. No two seemed to be alike. Most seemed to be made of stainless steel, although I seriously doubt that was the material. A few items I recognized as AK-47 and M-16 variants hung from the rack on the left, while some strange-shaped items hung from the right- large high-tech grenades, some large device that I guessed to be a railgun straight out of BattleTech, and a device (laser? Tiny-bullet machinegun?) with 'Micro-2025' in big black letters on its side. "Jesus fucking Christ...", I uttered in a whisper, and I realized I was gawking again. This is ridiculous. You could equip (and kill!) an army with this shit. God help the idiots who'd dare invade this island.
Howard looked around the room again, looked at his guide again, and we followed him to a pool of very clear water and then to a room full of strange stuff, not quite as big as the weapons room, but none of this stuff I recognized to be similar in the least to anything I've seen before. A pile of blueprints lay on the near corner of a large table, with a few books lying around. Stuff I really wondered about was lining the walls; a suit of very fucked up armor, a large globe that looked almost like a crystal ball (who knows what you can see in THAT thing..), and some strange TV-like devices were in the back. It was a sampling center, I realized- a place where he can take a closer look at things that his organization is using.. and perhaps, test them out. I noticed Sarah wasn't looking at anything in particular, then I noticed a book on a simple wire rack.
'Control Devices', it read in bold print. Out of simple, overwhelming curiosity I flipped through it randomly. What the hell? Chemical balance checkers? Implanted homing beacons? Lots of drug dispensers, but no drugs... mind control implants, figured that'd be in here (more destabilization and nausea again)... and what the fuck is a cephalic wave inhibitor? Good thing it's listed as 'mostly ineffective'... How many times have they used this shit already? What HAVEN'T they used?! And what the hell is it all doing in alphabetical order in a neat little textbook on some fucking shelf?!
More destabilization, more nausea, and still a nagging sensation of disbelief. My mind did a backflip, and my stomach took an Olympic dive. Amazing clarity and total disbelief came into my line of thinking at the same time, and my world went fuzzy, although I didn't come close to passing out. I came to a certain realization, and some craziness to go along with it.
I struggled to put all the public control shit I've ever seen into one sentence, my voice and my mind being impaired by the steady constriction of my throat and my state of panic. "You're the one who's behind this?! Barney, the Power Rangers, the fake-ass morals, the schools, the lies, the controlling.... it's YOU, isn't it?!" A pathetic list- didn't mention causes and effects, didn't mention how, didn't mention why, but I'd be listing for hours if I could think of all of them at once... and only these guys, I realized, really know why.
He seems to be practiced at terror. "Not quite.", he told me. "I'm just starting to get complete control today. All of that crap you talked about was, yeah, either produced or influenced by the Illuminati and fed to the masses to keep them sated and complacent. I wasn't the one doing it." Destabilization, nausea, and the steady sense of being out-of-body infused me. I was watching a movie or playing a game, with my point of view as the only camera. It's like playing Doom or something- your first-person view is way out in front of you and you know it's not, can't be, definitely isn't real.
And here I am in unreality playing a nice little video game of Billy and Howard. So when does the shooting start?
I flowed back into myself and kept following ye mighty Inheritor around, down the steps, into a library. A monster library. A really, really, really big fucking library, twice as large as the biggest public one I've been in, with laminated books lining the metallic shelves (no particular paper smell, it smelled of nothing like every other room in this place). And in the center, I saw a computer connected to a very big metallic box.. if that was all modern hard drive (or better!), every book in the world could be contained in that, with quintillions of bytes to spare for multimedia. It's all largeness, I realized- this whole place is designed with the simple aim of aggrandizing the Inheritor's power and position. And it doesn't just look large and useful, it is large and useful. This whole place is built with an underlying philosophy of utilitarianism.. which makes a good deal of sense.
'Where do we want you to go today, Billy? You see, we've got the information, the power.. you're one of us now... everything is at your fingertips... except one, small, inconsequential, little thing...', I heard in my head. Need I mention the destabilization and nausea again?
I noticed I wasn't blinking. Power... money... unbelievable resources... all shown to me within ten minutes of me getting here. If there's such a thing as shock therapy, this is it. Of course you have to know, Billy, you're going to be walking these halls for a long, long time, my other self thought to me. Or was it Howard? No, this was actually me thinking to myself.. and I couldn't tell right off the bat, which made me worry about my own sanity again.
I noticed the Lord Inheritor going back up the stairs to the elevator, and I followed him up it, to the spacious living room with the couch. He told me to sit down on it again, and I did it. (You have no idea how utterly annoying that is.) The destabilization had finally won. My head felt like it was on fire. I had no idea what was in for me next. Is this, indeed, Hell? How long will I be here, and where will I go if I die? Is this guy really my twin or just a demonic doppelganger? And the control... the control... I looked directly at Howard, trying to ascertain what he really was. I realized I had calmed down somewhat. I looked deeper, and I saw.. a boy. A boy far above the normal, IQ in the stratosphere, almost certainly with the same regenerative powers I have (One time, I cut my finger with a razor, the cut no longer existed in less than twenty seconds. I've kept it a secret). Ten years old, rich as fuck, powerful enough to have his servants surgically implanted with technology the world won't see for a long time.
"Billy," he asked me, "where do you think you are?" Good question, Howard. If only I really knew.
I told him as much as I was sure of, "I'm on a big mansion on an island... somewhere." That somewhere could be anywhere from the bad ends of the bible to another planet. Another planet... must be serious warp technology if it's that. How much power you packin, Howie? Nah... it's not another planet. He's the ruler of this world, remember? Or close to it.
"Billy, you realize you're going to be my servant, if you didn't understand it the first time.", he said. Of course I understood it the first time. How could I not? Smart people do not get thrown into bad situations without understanding them very, very quickly. And this, indeed, is a bad situation... all my nightmares have built up to this one specific point. I'm not dreaming, though, I already figured that out.. this is real, there really IS a world controller and the government really is a lot of puppets... good lord... why hasn't anyone done anything? What the hell is going on when someone like this can exist? And why, in a world with six billion people, do I have to be the one in this situation? Guess I won the anti-lottery... and my anti-prize is worse than death. Happy birthday, Howie, because you're the only one of us getting one this year.
"Yeah, oh shit.", I said in a neutral tone. My thoughts were not reflecting on my voice anymore.
He was just smiling faintly and looking at (or through) me. Probably powertripping. Geez, if medieval kings could powertrip, he must be stoned all the way to the moon. I've powertripped before, with the small, childish causes most schoolkids have.. getting a 100% on a test, winning a contest, being the best in something or other... but never with real power. Never with real, world-controlling, do as I say, I get what I want, utter, sheer, total power. Not like Howard.
But power doesn't exist, does it? Not really. In the world I'm used to, people do things through fear. Fear of being killed, fear of "failing in life", fear of parents, fear of the boss, fear of jail, fear of losing something important. From there comes power, when some person holds the reins of fear of someone else. Do A, or C will happen to you. Don't do B, or C will happen to you. Invent God to make people do as you say even when they're alone. Don't jack off, you'll go blind. Don't think evil. Just do as we tell you if you want to remain healthy. That form of control makes excellent servants.
This form of control makes better ones. Somehow, they totally bypass the decision-making parts of the brain, and just force people to do things. No fear needed. Beliefs unnecessary. 'Hate us all you want, we don't need to inflict pain or impose physical restraints, you can't hurt us.', I heard some imaginary Illuminated scientist say with some insane technical dudes at his back, calmly working away at the next diabolic plot, destined for success because there are no James Bonds or Arnold Schwarzeneggers who can stop them. The reality was probably a large team of collaborators working on what they'd probably refer to as The Project. Are Sarah and I the only two people like... like this? How many more do you have, Howard.. or dare I ask? Hope he doesn't ask me what I'm thinking again. At least leave me my thoughts, you already have my body, I wished silently.
More likely, he didn't even need to ask. It should be fairly obvious to an idiot where my mind is, given said idiot could imagine himself in this situation. I looked at Howard intently again, testing his reality, making sure I couldn't look right through him, observing his characteristics. Know thine enemy, even if you can't do much about him.
If there was one thing that took me back the most, it had to be his security and calmness. Even when he got pissed off, his voice proclaimed 'this is temporary.' He's obviously never really worried about anything important. No fear. At all. Of anything. And what does he have to fear, anyway? His (my?) dad probably never told him any lies, and certainly never disciplined him. Would he dare, when his son would have the power to have the guy removed from reality in a few years? He had no scars, no blemishes, nothing obvious to separate him from the ordinary people, except for what I have- twelve fingers, eight toes, totally melanin-free body, almost completely white eyes, and stark white hair (which, for the first time, I noticed was all the way down to the middle of his back). And I'd bet whatever I have left to bet- which probably isn't much- that no morons ever chastised him, called him names, or pissed him off at any point in his life. No priest ever told him to keep his hands away from porno, no teacher ever warned him about drugs or AIDS or gangs or strangers or the dangers of guns. I was nearing powertrip status just thinking about that- a life with no negative influences at all, no resource blocks, nothing at all to stop you from doing what you wanted and what you were good at.
I have no idea whether he was reading my thoughts or simply thinking along the same lines, but he said, in his usual happy voice and a grin on his face, "Billy, you'll never have to go to school again, ever!" I screamed for joy. He wasn't taking me to his level, probably no one could be at his level at the same time as he is, but he is indeed nice. Nice and badass. And I was getting the golden opportunity to watch someone else, just like me, be even better than the person I've always wanted to be.
Then external reality, my accepted norms of life, and the perverted, disgruntled-postal-worker insanity of this whole thing came crashing down on me again and I shook it off. I decided to take everything at face value- if it was, indeed, an incredibly vivid dream, then I'd wake up from it sooner or later. If it was real, then like the annoying meerkat guy and the fat warthog with the small brain say, hakuna matata. No worries, I'm just along for the ride, I don't even have to worry about what I'll be doing in response. Because in this section of the choose-your-own-adventure novel we call life, there's literally no choices at all for me. All I have to do is just keep flipping pages, and sooner or later the little evil words 'The End' will be put in the middle.
The screen in front of us buzzed again, and the old guy reappeared on it.